An exquisite exhibition, Love and Devotion: From Persia and Beyond, is on display at the Public Library, Melbourne. Illustrated manuscripts starting from the 13th century mainly from Persia are the highlight – in the most literal sense of the word – the colour and form of the illustrations are wondrous. Poetry, overwhelmingly secular in tone, by several writers of the time wet your appetite. I can understand how Rumi, a Persian Muslim poet, jurist, and mystic, has recently topped the poetry best-seller list in the New York Times (such are the vagaries of cultural tastes).
One sentence, said to be well known in the West, struck me:
“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers
within yourself that you have built against it.”
Why has that poem, and others by the same author, appealed to western tastes so much? I know why it appealed to me – I thought immediately that that sentence quite perfectly represents Freudian psychoanalysis – six hundred years before the event.
Most westerners have a notion about Freud, without likely ever having read much of his work, that it’s all about sex – in some way or other. I prefer to think that the basic issue of Freudian thought is the role of the unconscious, and the repressed, denied, forgotten hidden there. This is what distinguishes Freud’s work from what preceded, as well as so much of what follows him.
Unlike dominant western thought since the sixteenth century which firmly believes that rational, conscious thinking determines what we mostly do as mature adults, Freud insists that man is racked by conflicting demands, many of which we are unaware of, they being so deeply buried away; and that in the long run it is these unconscious factors that shape what we do. We are divided within ourselves, and our consciousness, with its intentions, play the lesser role in our lives. We, quite understandably, deny this; but this normal human process explains why it is so hard to know why we behave as we do. And why it is so hard to change our ways. We are creature of habit, whether we want to be or not.
That is Freud’s diagnosis, and his recommendation is the hand of analysis which can help us, though not necessarily successfully, discover what exactly are the particular unconscious desires and drives which force us so often to act against our best interests, and which subsequently produces so much mental pain for us.
The two writers are talking the same language: Rumi ‘love’ and Freud’s ‘sex’ run a similar gauntlet of travails and the same broad spectrum of passions.
It is commonly assumed, I think, that psychoanalysis, as a way of thinking about human affairs, and as a therapy to help heal our self-inflicted wounds, can only be a western phenomenon because ‘introspection’ is essentially only a western mode of reflection. Our literature essentially rests on the novel, which overwhelmingly is a study in individuals psychology. It is not the case elsewhere, it seems to us.
I don’t know how well that stands up to any rigorous global investigation, but it appears to apply at least to Indian culture. I have found that so from my own experience. But the testimony of Sudhir Kakar, India’s finest psychoanalyst scholar, is more powerful. He says that he has to spend nine months with new Indian patients for them to learn to be introspective, before he can begin psychoanalysis with them.
But reading Rumi presented me with a new idea. Poetry has for a long time been a mass popular culture in at least several countries, including Iran. Poetry automatically delves into the psyche every bit as much as the novel. Witness the Rumi. I am kee to explore further this insight.
In the meantime read some Rumi and visit the exhibition. And read some of Kakar’s beautifully written boos
to to posted on melbournecentreforideas.com.au
http://melbournecentreforideas.posterous.com/language-never-innocent posted 27-3-2012